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Ginger Beer: What is it?

Learn everything you could ever need to know about this classic cocktail mixer.

Most of us have heard of it. Many of us have probably drunk it. But, how many of us know what ginger beer actually is? While it is the main ingredient in beverages such as Moscow Mules or Dark ‘n’ Stormys, not all of us know what goes into making ginger beer.

a bottle of ginger beer next to two cocktails

First thing’s first, we need to get this out of the way – ginger beer is not the same as ginger ale! Yes, both are carbonated drinks. Yes, both are non-alcoholic. And, yes, both boast a ginger flavor. But, both are their own form of drink which we will look into farther down.

Ginger beer has a surprisingly long history. In fact, it was a very popular drink in the late 1800s in England. However, back then, it was an alcoholic beverage and had a similarity to hard cider. So, it wasn’t all tea and crumpets for the Victorians!

What is Ginger Beer?

Ginger beer is a non-alcoholic, carbonated beverage made from a blend of ginger, water, and fermented sugar. Much like ginger itself, it has a spicy and aromatic flavor. Ginger beer is commonly used as a mixer for cocktails, like a Moscow Mule, or as just a soft drink to enjoy.

Below, you will find an in-depth guide on ginger beer and what goes into making this popular drink. We will discuss the best ways to drink ginger beer so you can try it out for yourself.

If you’re ready, let’s find out more about this sweetened and carbonated drink that is loved by millions worldwide.


Where Does Ginger Beer Come From? 

Ginger beer dates back to as early as 500 BC. However, back then, the drink was used as a medicine as well as a flavoring for different foods in ancient China and India. As time went on, ginger beer was used to spice up different drinks in the western hemisphere. 

Fast forward to the mid 18th century and ginger beer was starting to get brewed in Yorkshire, England. It quickly spread across the British isles and became a very popular beverage. This popularity gained traction further afield and soon became a favorite in Ireland, the United States, Canada, and South Africa. Its popularity peaked during the early part of the 20th century. 

While it was an alcoholic drink during those early years, its formula has changed in modern times. This is, in part, due to the Prohibition laws of the 1920s in the U.S. where a non-alcoholic version was introduced in response to the new laws.

Today, ginger beer remains non-alcoholic (mostly) but it still boasts a robust, aromatic, spicy flavor. It’s made with a combination of ginger, water, and sugar which are then fermented with yeast. The process is finished off with the beverage being carbonated and finally bottled.  

Ginger beer can be sipped as a soft drink and is often used in sparkling mocktails for anyone wanting a non-alcoholic drink, or in the classic Moscow mule drink (vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice).

Contrary to popular belief, ginger beer has never contained any form of beer. It’s not even made with the same methods to brew beer. The fermentation process used to make traditional ginger beer is more closely related to the method to produce hard cider. Also, not all modern ginger beers are fermented meaning there is zero alcoholic content in the beverage. 

If you were to use a traditional fermentation method, you would yield a small amount of alcohol and then add carbonation to the drink. Nevertheless, some modern ginger beers get their fizz from forced carbonation. In other words, they are pressurized with carbon dioxide. This is instead of being fermented resulting in an alcohol-free beverage. 

Ginger Beer vs Ginger Ale: Are They the Same? 

As we mentioned above, ginger beer and ginger ale are not the same drink. One easy way to get your head around this is to think like this:

Ginger ale is flavored water. 

Ginger beer is a fermented drink.

In general, ginger ale has a much sweeter flavor. It’s made by blending carbonated water with a ginger-flavored syrup. This beverage is extremely carbonated and has a much lighter color when compared to ginger beer. This lighter color matches the milder flavor of the beverage which, in turn, makes it a great alternative for club soda in different mocktails.

So, what about ginger beer? This beverage has a stronger, more robust ginger flavor. Its fermentation process differs from some characteristics of the smell and taste. Esters are produced as the yeast in the drink digests sugars transforming the flavor and smell of the “beer.” This results in ginger beer generally having a stringer, more dynamic flavor profile than ginger ale. 

How to Drink Ginger Beer

Now you understand what ginger beer is (if you don’t, hang in there with us), you still may be unsure what to drink it with. Let’s clear this up for you.

On the whole, ginger beer is regularly reserved for alcoholic drinks such as the famous Moscow mule. Nonetheless, there are an almost endless number of mocktails as well as punches that you can add ginger beer to spice things up a little (or a lot!)

A non-alcoholic Moscow mule or a ginger and peach mocktail is a great drink to start with. Generally, ginger beer mixes very well with citrus juices such as lemon or orange. It also pairs extremely well with warmer, richer flavors such as nutmeg or cinnamon. One key tip though! Make sure that you stir the ginger beer rather than shake. This will preserve as much of the carbonation as possible from the ginger beer and leave you with a better blend of the different ingredients in the beverage. 

There is a wide range of ginger beer beverages to choose from out there. One exceptional London-based company that specializes in a variety of cocktail mixers and sodas is Fever-Tree. They offer ginger beer that goes great with any mocktail of your choice.

Another superb company is the Australian Bundaberg. They provide ginger grown by themselves in Queensland, Australia. These two brands offer the best tasting ginger beer around and, whether you want to sip your ginger beer on its own or with a mocktail, they taste incredible either way. 

Keep in mind, however, that, while ginger beer is usually non-alcoholic, some brands still sell the alcoholic kind. Therefore, always check the label before purchasing to avoid a surprise hangover!

Potential Health Benefits of Ginger Beer 

That’s right, ginger beer can help with certain health conditions. Research has found that ginger can enhance digestion and help move food along smoothly through your stomach. With stomach discomforts and nausea having a direct correlation with each other, ginger beer has been found to help both. Ginger contains gingerol and shogaol which are effective agents that help to relieve stomach irritation and various digestive discomforts. 

Ginger beer may also help lower your risk of cancer. While more studies need to be made to make this conclusive, early indications show that ginger beer’s active compounds actually exhibit some anti-cancer properties. Moreover, these active compounds (zingerone and paradol) also exhibit chemo-preventive properties that help alleviate inflammation and stop the destruction caused by cancer cells in our bodies. 

Other health benefits include help with types of anti-inflammatory (arthritis, gastritis, osteoarthritis, etc) and ginger beer also includes some antibacterial properties. Some telltale physical signs of aging can even be slowed down by drinking ginger beer as a glass of ginger beer can bring about a sense of calm and relieve stress over time.


Final Thoughts

As you can see, ginger beer isn’t just for Moscow Mules (although that’s probably our favorite way to drink it). Ginger beer is a delicious fermented drink that even has health benefits, and its origins date back to ancient times.

Hope this guide was informative! Drop a comment and let us know your favorite way to use ginger beer!

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is from Sanibel Island, Florida, and a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.